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FSU football has depth on offense and key starters in place

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Florida State might have the nation’s best running back rotation in 2018.

NCAA Football: Florida State Spring Game Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get right to it: Florida State’s offense was disastrous in 2017, finishing 76th per Football Outsiders S&P+ rankings. Although part of that was because the Seminoles lost starting quarterback Deondre Francois early in the season, offensive line play left much to be desired and the receivers dealt with injuries as well.

But now, offensive guru Willie Taggart is at the helm and his Gulf Coast Offense is already being installed. Between Taggart and offensive coordinator Walt Bell, the coaching staff should have FSU’s offense back on track in 2018.

Unlike the defensive side of the ball, the Seminoles return quality depth at several positions on offense and have numerous blue-chip players established as starters.

Quarterback

Florida State returns a pair of experienced starters in Francois and James Blackman, each with a dozen starts under his belt.

Francois had an impressive 2016 campaign, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. A dual-threat quarterback, Francois showcased his ability to throw on the move and dodge traffic on the run. In a way, he has similar traits to Quinton Flowers, the former USF quarterback who broke records with Taggart in Tampa.

On the other hand, Blackman is the more traditional pocket passer. Listed at a lanky 6’5 and 169-pounds, Blackman is more adept at standing in the pocket and picking apart defenses with his arm. After stepping in for an injured Francois, the former three-star recruit flashed potential as a freshman, throwing for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Bailey Hockman is the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster and is expected to be the third-string option behind Francois and Blackman.

The quarterback battle will last well into fall camp, but whoever wins the job will have starting experience. Both Francois and Blackman bring something different to the table and neither would be a bad fit in Taggart’s offense.

2018 FSU Offense - Quarterbacks

- Year Starts Pass Yds Pass TDs INT Rush TDs Notes
- Year Starts Pass Yds Pass TDs INT Rush TDs Notes
No. 13 James Blackman SO 12 2,230 19 11 0 Starter in '17, non-EE as FR but won backup job
No. 12 Deondre Francois rJR 14 3,560 21 9 5 Starter in '16, knee injury vs Alabama '17, DNP in spring
No. 10 Bailey Hockman rFR 0 - - - - Redshirted in '17, projected third string
TOTAL - 26 5,790 40 20 5 Good depth, assuming no transfers

Running Back

FSU’s rushing attack is likely to be the focus of its offense, given that both Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick return in 2018.

A former Top-10 recruit, Akers lived up to expectations as a freshman in 2018. Despite only starting four games, he rushed for over 1,000 yards and broke Dalvin Cook’s freshman rushing record. The sky is the limit for this kid, and if early Heisman odds are any indication, 2018 could be a breakout season for him.

If Akers is the lighting, Patrick is the thunder. The senior has started 10 games and rushed for 1,400 yards in his career in Tallahassee. At 6-2, 230-pounds, Patrick is a bruising runner who does not go down on first contact. He is the perfect complement to Akers and the pair should form the top running back duo in the ACC.

But the fun doesn’t end there. Behind those two are a plethora of blue-chip backs. The only player with experience is Amir Rasul, a track star who has played in relief duty so far. Former five-star recruit Khalan Laborn was the star of the spring game, and both he and Zaquandre White could push for snaps after redshirting in 2017.

2018 FSU Offense - Running Backs

- Year Starts Rush Yds Rush TDs Rec Yds Rec TDs Notes
- Year Starts Rush Yds Rush TDs Rec Yds Rec TDs Notes
No. 23 Cam Akers SO 4 1,025 7 116 1 Top-10 recruit, starter midway through '17
No. 19 Jacques Patrick SR 10 1,412 16 254 0 Injured midway through '17 but returned
No. 22 Amir Rasul JR 0 198 0 28 0 Rotational RB, possible returner
No. 21 Khalan Laborn rFR 0 - - - - Redshirted in '17, likely bigger role in '18
No. 27 Zaquandre White rFR 0 - - - - Redshirted in '17
Anthony Grant FR - - - - - -
TOTAL - 14 2,635 23 398 1 One of the best RB rotations in the nation

Wide Receiver

Auden Tate’s career numbers are impressive, given that he suffered from poor quarterback play and injuries during his time in Tallahassee. His 16 total touchdowns are nothing to scoff at, and Florida State will miss his 6’5 presence in the red zone.

The good news is that Nyqwan Murray is returning for his senior season. At times, Murray has been a dynamic receiving threat. Despite being listed at 5’11, Murray is most famous for “Mossing” Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis for a touchdown to secure an Orange Bowl victory in 2016. If Murray can stay healthy, he could have a breakout season in his final year of eligibility before the NFL Draft. And the early returns on his attitude and effort have been quite positive.

Aside from Murray, the list of proven commodities is thin.

Keith Gavin started eight games last season, but this 6’3, 217-pounder did not live up to the hype surrounding him. Granted, shaky quarterback play was a factor, but Gavin will need to contribute more than the 278 receiving yards he registered in 2017. George Campbell is another physically talented player, but injuries have severely limited him during his four years on campus.

D.J. Matthews and Tamorrion Terry are two second-year players who could have bigger roles. Matthews emerged as FSU’s primary punt returner late in the season and should be a threat from the slot. Terry, a redshirt freshman, showcased his breakaway speed in the spring game and should be a downfield threat if he continues to grow as a receiver.

2018 FSU Offense - Receivers

- Year Starts Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs Rush TDs Notes
- Year Starts Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs Rush TDs Notes
No. 11 Nyqwan Murray SR 10 73 1,110 9 0 Two year starter, DNP in spring following injury
No. 89 Keith Gavin JR 8 27 278 0 0 Starter in '17, missed time with injury
No. 29 D.J. Matthews SO 0 6 72 1 0 Likely slot receiver in '18, punt returner
No. 11 George Campbell rJR 0 9 164 0 0 Injured in '15, '16, '17
No. 15 Tamorrion Terry rFR 0 - - - - Redshirted in '17
No. 27 Ontaria Wilson rFR 0 - - - - Recruited as DB, moved to WR b/c of depth issues
Warren Thompson FR - - - - - -
Tre'Shaun Harrison FR - - - - - -
Jordan Young FR - - - - - -
D'Marcus Adams FR - - - - - -
Keyshawn Helton FR - - - - - -
TOTAL - 18 115 1,624 10 0 Major questions outside of Murray
Auden Tate - 14 65 957 16 0 Seventh round pick by the Bengals
Ermon Lane - 2 27 486 1 0 UDFA

Tight End

With Florida State moving to Taggart’s Gulf Coast Offense, gone are the traditional in-line tight ends and fullbacks that we saw under Jimbo Fisher. That group is now mixed into one tight end group, essentially serving an H-back role in Taggart’s attack.

Despite the role change, the loss of Ryan Izzo is meaningful. The former three-star recruit grew into a great blocker and underrated pass catcher. His production was somewhat limited by up-and-down quarterback play, but he would have likely thrived as a blocker in Taggart’s scheme.

The first man up to replace Izzo seems to be sophomore Tre’ McKitty, a product of the IMG Academy in Bradenton. He did not redshirt in his first year on campus and has the athleticism to be a star, assuming his blocking is improved.

Behind McKitty are Jonathan Vickers and Gabe Nabers, former fullbacks who will likely find their way onto the field in blocking situations. Just because the fullback title has been eliminated, Taggart will still use blocking backs in goal-line or short-yardage situations.

Naseir Upshur had a good spring and could contribute in the H-back role as well. Finally, Alexander Marshall redshirted as a freshman due to injury, but could provide a red zone threat with his 6-8 size.

2018 FSU Offense - Tight Ends

- Year Starts Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs Rush TDs Notes
- Year Starts Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs Rush TDs Notes
No. 16 Tre' McKitty SO 0 1 23 0 0 Did not redshirt as FR, likely starter at TE
No. 26 Jonathan Vickers rSR 0 4 50 1 1 Started at RB, moved to FB, now at TE, blocking RB essentially
No. 35 Gabe Nabers JR 0 1 2 1 0 Recruited as FB, now at TE/H-back
No. 82 Naseir Upshur JR 0 - - - - Non-contributor as FR/SO, played well in spring apparently
No. 80 Alexander Marshall rFR 0 - - - - Redshirted in '17
Camren McDonald FR - - - - - -
TOTAL - 0 6 75 2 1 No proven players, aside from converted fullbacks.
Ryan Izzo - 37 54 761 6 0 Seventh round pick by the Patriots
Mavin Saunders - 10 16 234 0 0 Transfer to Kansas

Offensive Line

The offseason saw several departures along the offensive line, but none more notable than Rick Leonard and Brock Ruble. Neither were fantastic players during their time at FSU, but provided depth and average play when called upon. Leonard was drafted in the fourth-round of the NFL Draft by the Saints, while Ruble elected to forego his final year of eligibility and call it a career.

The good news is that Florida State returns several players with starting experience.

Alec Eberle has started 32 games during his career, providing up-and-down center play. He is not the most physically gifted player, but provides senior leadership and a stout presence along the line.

Landon Dickerson and Cole Minshew anchor the guard positions. Dickerson is great when he’s on the field, but an ACL tear ended his freshman season and an ankle injury cost him most of 2017. Minshew, on the other hand, has stayed mostly healthy as of late, but dealt with concussions early in his career.

With Josh Ball no longer a member of the roster, Derrick Kelly is the only returning player with experience at tackle. While Ball experienced his share of difficulties as a freshman, he he was expected to be a starter along this year’s line.

Kelly started at left tackle last season, but was forced to kick inside when Dickerson left with injury. He will presumably play tackle this season, given the lack of options available otherwise.

With Kelly holding down one tackle spot, the other will likely go to one of Jauan Williams or Abdul Bello. Williams spent last year as a reserve player and is an athletic option. Bello was higher-rated coming out of high school, but an ACL tear as a freshman set his development back. The two will battle in fall camp for the job.

The interior of the offensive line will have several backup options. Baveon Johnson will contend for the center job, but could also play guard. Mike Arnold and Corey Martinez are also guard options as well. Brady Scott redshirted in 2017 due to injury and has practiced at center, but could play tackle also. Finally, Christian Armstrong enrolled early, but is likely headed for a redshirt year.

2018 FSU Offense - Offensive Line

- Year Starts Pos Notes
- Year Starts Pos Notes
No. 69 Landon Dickerson JR 11 OG Season-ending injuries in '16 and '17
No. 70 Cole Minshew rJR 15 OG Starter in '16, '17
No. 54 Alec Eberle rSR 32 C Starter in '16, '17, '18, DNP in spring back-to-back years
No. 74 Derrick Kelly rSR 17 OT Starter in '17, can also play OG
No. 75 Abdul Bello rJR 0 OT Contender for OT job
No. 73 Jauan Williams rSO 0 OT Redshirted in '16, contender for OT job
No. 72 Mike Arnold rSO 0 OG Redshirted in '16, projected backup at OG
No. 51 Baveon Johnson rSO 0 C Missed all of '17 with injury
No. 57 Corey Martinez rSR 3 C Starting experience in '15
No. 59 Brady Scott rFR 0 C Redshirted in '17 with injury, can also play OT
No. 77 Christian Armstrong FR - OT -
Christian Meadows FR - OG -
Jalen Goss FR - OT -
Chaz Neal FR - OT -
TOTAL - 78 - Good depth at OG/C, questions at OT
Rick Leonard - 19 OT Fourth round pick by the Saints
Brock Ruble - 13 OT Retired from football
Josh Ball - 9 OT Removed from roster